So the season-opener featured 76 points and a quarterback performance for the ages, and there was all this explosive-offense talk, and then, on Sunday, to open the 94th NFL season, this happened:
• The Patriots, who averaged 34 points a game last year, needed an Audie Murphy performance by Danny Amendola and a Stephen Gostkowski field goal with five seconds left to beat Buffalo 23-21.
• Seven of Sunday’s 13 games totaled 40 points or less.
• Pittsburgh’s offense was shut out at home for the first 58 minutes of a 16-9 loss.
• Seattle, which scored 37 points a game on average in its last six games of 2012, managed 12 at Carolina, and still won.
• Adrian Peterson’s first carry of 2013: 78 yards. His next 17 carries: 15 yards.
• Sunday’s leading rusher: Terrelle Pryor, quarterback, Oakland. In his first NFL start, Pryor rushed 13 times for 112 yards.
But here’s my favorite stat of all from the weekend:
Baltimore’s four wide receivers Thursday night: 15 catches, 215 yards, one touchdown.
The receiver Baltimore traded away for a sixth-round pick: 13 catches, 208 yards, one touchdown.
“I think you earned that $2 million today,’’ I said to Anquan Boldin Sunday night.
“Thanks,’’ he said with an awkward laugh.
The 49ers and Ravens, as you recall, had a marriage of convenience last March. Baltimore wanted Boldin to cut his pay from $6 million to $4 million. Boldin thought being the second-best Baltimore player in the postseason (next to Joe Flacco) did not merit a pay cut and stuck to his guns. When the Ravens knew they couldn’t re-do Boldin’s deal, Baltimore coach John Harbaugh got on the phone with his brother, Jim, the Niners’ coach, and they worked out a deal. Instead of cutting Boldin, Baltimore would get something for him, a sixth-round pick. And when the 49ers lost Michael Crabtree until November with a torn Achilles, all of a sudden San Francisco had the top receiver it needed to go along with its top everything else.
The 49ers beat Green Bay in their meeting by the Bay, and Colin Kaepernick and Boldin were the main reasons. Eschewing the read-option and going to more of a pocket-passing game—offensive coordinator Greg Roman is becoming famous for throwing changeups at defenses, and everyone expected Kaepernick to have a big day running the ball—Kaepernick threw for 412 yards. More than half went to Boldin, in the biggest day since the first game of his rookie season, exactly one decade and two days ago. He caught 10 balls for 217 yards as a Cardinal in the 2003 opener.
“We scouted Green Bay the entire offseason,’’ Boldin said afterward. “We got some looks we thought we’d get. All through the offseason and in training camp, when I was working with Colin, we’d constantly be communicating. What are we seeing here, when am I breaking off what route. I’ve never been a guy who relied on my speed anyway, but I know how to get open. And Colin and I have developed a good relationship, so it doesn’t feel like we’re new to each other at all.’’
I remember when Boldin signed with Baltimore in 2010, how the Ravens raved about how quickly he adjusted to the new offense and to quarterback Joe Flacco. I looked it up this morning: He had 20 catches for 287 yards in his first three games in Baltimore. And now, on the phone from San Francisco, he sounded like an avid reader of Who Moved My Cheese? “Anytime you’re in a period in your life where there’s transition,’’ he said, “don’t fight it. Don’t resist. Buy into the system. We’ve got a good offensive coordinator here.’’
And, Boldin said, don’t hold a grudge. “I’m not bitter at all,’’ he said. “This is a business. We all understand it. [The Ravens’ decision] was a little surprising, but you can’t let that stuff bother you.”
My other Sunday storylines:
Long year for the Steelers. I’ve learned never to count out Mike Tomlin, and his players will play hard in the fourth quarter of the 16th game if they’re 0-15. But the offensive line is full of leaks, and now Maurkice Pouncey is gone for the year with a torn ACL (injury of the day), running game savior Le’Veon Bell (foot) is maybe a month away from contributing, and they’ve got to go to Cincinnati a week from tonight to face a team that looks to be passing them in the AFC North hierarchy. Not good.
Danny Amendola has a little Welker in him, and maybe a lot. Late in the first half at Buffalo, Amendola, who entered the game nursing a groin injury, pulled up in the end zone in obvious pain, grabbing the inside of his upper leg. Well, that’s it. He’s gone for six weeks. The Legend of Brittle Amendola continues. But back he came in the second half with seven catches for 64 yards in the last two quarters, converting a 3rd-and-8 on the winning field-goal drive in the final minutes. “I knew he was a tough player,’’ Shane Vereen, his new teammate, said after the game. “But for him to come back from that and play how he played in the second half, that was pretty impressive.”
The Raiders might not be good, but they might have a quarterback. Very interesting game by Pryor—217 passing yards, 112 rushing yards, one touchdown pass, one bad interception, one luckless interception—as he led the Raiders to a surprising 372-yard day in Indianapolis in his second NFL start. “This is my dream,’’ he said from Indianapolis. “I prepared all week. I prepared to lead, and I prepared to play well.” What impressed me watching Pryor: the poise not to be rattled, even when he got hit and chased by a defensive front that often overwhelmed Oakland’s line. Now, he didn’t survey the field the way a veteran quarterback does, looking at three or four options; instead he ran when the pocket broke down. But on this day, it was his best option. For a first start, it was a B-plus, and I definitely want to see more. San Francisco was supposed to have the mobile quarterback who could hurt you with his legs and his arm. Now maybe Oakland has one too. The most impressive thing from my post-game talk with Pryor came when I asked him about Al Davis. You’ll recall that one of the last significant moves by Davis before he died in 2011 was taking Pryor in the third round of the 2011 supplemental draft. “I owe Mr. Davis,’’ said Pryor. “This man believed I’d be a star quarterback. He said that to me multiple times. He took a chance on me when other teams wouldn’t. And I think he was smiling down a little bit today, watching this. This may sound crazy, but every day I’m thankful for what he did for me.”
Geno Smith has at least one element of what it takes to be a New York quarterback. Thick skin, apparently. He can tune out the crap. The Jets were on their way to a 17-15 loss when Smith got whacked out of bounds—to me, the call was ticky-tack, but as Smith said, “Doesn’t matter; they called it”—and the 15-yard penalty allowed Nick Folk to be in range for a 48-yard winning field goal. A totally unlikely first victory. He was 24 of 38 for 256 yards, with a touchdown and a pick. And not affected by any of it. Isn’t it amazing to see so many rookie quarterbacks starting openers in the last couple of years (Smith, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III) be totally cool with the bigness of it all? This used to be unthinkable, starting so early. But now it’s almost expected that a passer with lots of college experience will step in and not embarrass himself. “My emotions were calm all day,’’ Smith said. “My team did a phenomenal job of bailing me out all day.’’ I asked Smith how he felt about playing against Tom Brady on a short week now, and his answer was either very practiced or very smart. “It’s not me against Tom Brady,’’ he said. “It’s the Jets against the Patriots.” And the mayhem outside the locker room? The predictions of disaster, and of Dead Coach Walking? “Doesn’t affect me one bit,’’ he said. “We’re a band of brothers in this room. We don’t care what the outside world thinks of us, and it can’t hurt us.”
I don’t think the Raiders or the Jets are going to be good. But I’ll be intrigued to watch both quarterbacks. I hope they both are given the time they need to be able to prove themselves.